Five ways you could be eroding trust with your team


Guest Post from Suzi McAlpine of The Leader's Digest, an award-winning leadership blog.

Building trust is now one of the major concerns keeping CEOs awake at night. That’s according to the recently released World Economic Forum 20th annual CEO survey.

“As we become more interconnected and interdependent, concern about a business trust gap has grown: 58% of CEOs worry that lack of trust in business could harm their company’s growth, up significantly from 37% in 2013.”

CEO’s are worrying, and with good reason. If you don’t have trust – with your team, your customers and other stakeholders – you’re in for a very bumpy ride.

Despite this ‘burning platform’ around the power of trust, I’m often surprised at how many leaders are coming unstuck when it comes to building trust – especially with the team they lead.

Here are five ways you could be BREAKING TRUST with your team as quickly as you can say “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” These pointers will allow you to recognise these faults in yourself, and hopefully help you remedy them.

1. Do as I say, not as I do.

One of the quickest ways you’ll erode trust is to NOT model what you expect from your team. If you stridently pronounce that everyone’s got to be on time - and then always turn up late to meetings yourself, your people will doubt your sincerity (as well as think you’re a bit of a plonker). Ditto with more important things like ethics and company values. If the thought of anything you’ve said or done being made public makes you squirmy, then take the hint and shift your behaviour in the right direction. The best leaders don’t expect anything from their own team that they’re not willing to do themselves.


What is one specific way you can model what you want within your team, starting today? 

2. Being secretive.

‘Transparency is the new black’. Some things need to remain confidential of course, but always be as transparent and upfront as you can. This transparency applies to information, your intent, performance and the challenges facing the team. Things can change in a nanosecond, so let your team know as much as you can, as soon as you can.


What information are you not currently sharing with your team which you can be more transparent about? (It’s always smart to check what’s confidential first, so share your ideas with your boss first)

3. Not delivering on your promises. 

This behaviour not only erodes trust, it builds apathy and a lack of confidence in your team. Be careful about what you promise – people have memories like elephants when it comes to what you say you’ll do, especially in times of strife or change. If you don’t know, say so. If you’re not sure, fess up. As with customers, you’re better to under promise and over deliver than go back on your word.


Where are you currently delivering on your promises to your direct reports? Where are you delivering on your promises to your direct manager or peers? Where might you be overpromising? Take a nonjudgmental but honest look at your own practice around delivering on your promises in your work environment.

4. Never showing any vulnerability, and hiding your weaknesses and flaws as if you have none at all.

Want a surefire way to botch people’s trust in yourself? See any of your team member’s vulnerabilities or weaknesses as career ending. As Patrick Lencioni says in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, “trust is all about vulnerability.” Research shows us that expressing vulnerability in an appropriate manner is an important leadership component when it comes to connecting with others at a basic human level. Leaders who show a bit of vulnerability can build trust with their teams far more quickly than those who don’t.


Often the best and most useful areas that a leader can show vulnerability are if they are in the context of lessons learnt. Where have you struggled before in the areas that your current team members are also struggling? What did you learn? What were your insights? Where have you made mistakes in your career and what did they teach you? What are your current weaknesses that you are working on? Can you share some of these with your team members?

5. Not spending any effort on building trust within the team.

A charge in and task mode approach towards ‘doing the work’ will guarantee poor results. Instead a ‘how we are going to work together’ attitude will ensure success. Building a high-performing team means making group dynamics and team creation a priority. People have questions that need to be answered before they can turn their attention to the work at hand. Questions such as:

  • Who are you and what’s important to each one of us in the context of this team?
  • Why are we here? What’s our purpose?
  • What is important to us collectively?
  • What values are important to this team? How will we demonstrate them when we work together and make decisions?
  • What behaviours will we commit to as a team? What is acceptable and what is not when it comes to conflict norms and group behaviours?


How would you rate yourself currently on the balance of building trust and focusing on the task at hand? What steps could you take to ensure that these questions are sufficiently answered for all the members of your team?

Think this blog has some useful tips for building trust within your team? Then check out The Leader’s Map, an online accelerator programme for emerging leaders. In it you’ll find many more video lessons, exercises, resources and tools to build trust and a high performing team.

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